Opposable Thumbs


Mega Man is determined to make it into Smash Bros., but he won't get there until next year.
Nintendo

Nintendo may not have had a traditional press conference at this year's E3, but it used a Nintendo Direct video presentation this morning to prove that the Wii U isn't shrinking away from new competition in the form of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. The 45-minute-long presentation showed quite a variety of new and old franchises for the Wii U from both third-party developers and Nintendo itself. The only problem, as far as Wii U owners are concerned, is that some of the most interesting announcements won't become actual games until next year.

Want the first-ever HD Mario Kart game? You'll have to wait until the spring of 2014. Want to play as Mega Man in a new Smash Bros. game (I know I do)? It will happen… next year. The exclusive sequel to the stylish and fatal Bayonetta still exists after its long media silence, but it won't hit Wii U consoles until next year. A new open-world adventure franchise called X from the creators of Xenosaga looks intriguing, but you won't be playing it until… yup, 2014.

A system's second holiday season is usually when its game library really starts to mature and we get to see what that system can really do. Given that, it's a bad sign that some of Nintendo's biggest franchises won't be able to make the crucial holiday sales rush this year.

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Back when we first reviewed the Wii U hardware, we called the touchscreen GamePad's three to five hours of battery life the system's "Achilles' heel." Nintendo is now taking some action to toughen up that weak heel, in Japan at least, by offering an optional expanded battery pack that extends the GamePad's functional life away from a charging outlet.

The new battery pack, which will retail for ¥3,150 (about $30) when it hits Japan on July 25, extends the standard battery capacity of 1500 mAh to 2550 mAh, providing what Nintendo says is five to eight hours of juice. The battery is the same physical size as the built-in battery included with the standard Wii U GamePad, and it requires a quick installation with a Phillips head screwdriver.

There's no word yet on whether this official expanded battery will be available in the US or other regions or whether an imported Japanese version will work on Wii U GamePads designed for other countries. For those who don't want to wait, Nyko currently offers an internal Wii U PowerPak rated at 4000 mAh and a bulky clip-on external battery extender that claims to double the GamePad's battery life (and doubles as a handy kickstand for the touchscreen).

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Too hot for the Wii U.

The release of the Wii U has done surprisingly little to quiet the debate over whether the system is actually powerful enough to stand up to the likes of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, much less the new Sony and Microsoft systems coming later in the year. Recent comments from DICE Technical Director for Frostbite Johan Andersson lends some weight to the argument that Nintendo's new system isn't powerful enough to stand up to the next generation.

After mentioning on Twitter that the newly announced Star Wars games from DICE and Visceral will be running on DICE's powerful Frostbite 3 engine, Andersson responded to a reader concern that this will mean the games will not be available for the Wii U.

"[Frostbite 3] has never been running on WiiU," Andersson tweeted. "We did some tests with not too promising results with [Frostbite 2] & chose not to go down that path."

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Aurich Lawson

EA has announced that it won't be bringing a version of this year's Madden NFL football title to the struggling Wii U, the first time since 1991 that the annual football series won't appear on a current-generation Nintendo home system.

"We will not be releasing a Wii U version of Madden NFL in 2013," EA said in a statement obtained by Nintendo World Report. "However, we have a strong partnership with Nintendo and will continue to evaluate opportunities for delivering additional Madden NFL products for Nintendo fans in the future."

The Madden series is routinely among the top-selling releases of the year in the US, but usage statistics showed the Wii U version of last year's Madden 13 struggled to make much of an impact compared to the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions. To be fair, the Wii U version came out when the system launched in November, well after the August release of the other versions. But the Wii U version was also missing some key features present in the other games, including the much ballyhooed "Infinity Engine" physics modeling.

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The hacking group responsible for one of the first major modchips for the original Wii claims to have successfully reverse-engineered the pieces necessary to run copies of Wii U games from external USB hard drives.

"Yes, it's real," the Wiikey group posted in an update on its website. "We have now completely reversed the Wii U drive authentification, disk encryption, file system, and everything else needed for this next generation K3y. Stay tuned for updates!"

The group describes the Wiike U, as it's being called, as "the first and only optical drive emulator" for the system, running a "powerful embedded Linux system" that is compatible with all regions and models of the Wii U. As described, the device appears to only play copies of official Wii U and Wii games, and not homebrew or hacked titles.

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There will be no on-stage antics like this from Nintendo at this year's E3.
Ben Kuchera

For the first time since the annual industry conference started in 1995, Nintendo will not be holding a major press conference at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) this year, instead "working to establish a new presentation style for E3."

Nintendo announced the surprising change in its promotional plans via an investor presentation by Nintendo President Satoru Iwata overnight. Rather than holding a major E3 press event to appeal to different audiences around the world, Iwata says Nintendo is "planning to host a few smaller events that are specifically focused on our software lineup for the US market" for this year's show, one for American distributors and another for the Western press. Iwata also cryptically mentioned that Nintendo is "continuing to investigate ways to deliver information about our games directly to our home audience around the time of E3," suggesting that it might be planning some sort of video presentation directly to consumers via the Web (or the Wii U) during the show.

While Nintendo will still be showing off new Wii U and 3DS titles on the E3 show floor, the move represents a significant change in marketing tactics for the major console maker. It would be like Apple deciding to announce the next major revision to iOS not with a worldwide developer-focused keynote address, but by simply setting up a booth at Mobile World Congress and inviting the press and select developers to try it out during a cocktail hour.

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Leaked numbers from NPD's latest report on US game hardware sales suggest consumers aren't scrambling for new systems from Sony and Nintendo. Numbers obtained and confirmed by sources in a position to know on gaming forum NeoGAF suggest the Wii U sold only 67,000 units in the US during the five weeks running from March 3 through April 6.

The leaked numbers continue a disappointing 2013 for Nintendo's newest system, which sold an estimated 50,000 US units in January and roughly 64,000 in February. This is after the system sold a decent 890,000 units during the 2012 holiday launch season last November and December.

For comparison, the Wii U is so far selling about 28 percent slower than the GameCube did in the five months after launching in November 2001, and about 50 percent slower than the Nintendo 64 and the original Wii did in their first five months. The Wii U is only about 10 percent behind the cumulative US sales numbers put up by the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 five months into their life cycles, however.

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Nintendo has been milking its impressive stable of mega-popular franchises for so long now that we really shouldn't be surprised that today's Nintendo Direct online video presentation was devoted almost entirely to sequels, remakes, and rereleases of popular franchises. Still, it's a bit incredible how much Nintendo is leaning on established properties, rather than new game ideas, to populate the software market for the 3DS and Wii U.

Of course, a generation of fans who grew up on these Nintendo games aren't likely to care too much. Nintendo announced a direct sequel to the SNES classic The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for the 3DS today, using the same familiar overhead perspective and established Hyrulian world, while infusing it with new mechanics like the ability for Link to become a 2D drawing and scoot along walls. There are precious few additional details about the game, but I'm willing to bet a good portion of those reading this are ready to preorder for the holiday release right now just because, hey, it's a freaking Link to the Past sequel!

Many Nintendo console owners will likely have similar feelings about the new portable Yoshi's Island game Nintendo announced today. And the new 3DS Mario Party title, the new 3DS Mario Golf game, the new 3DS entry in the Mario and Luigi RPG series, the new 3DS Mario and Donkey Kong: March of the Minis game, the new 3DS Professor Layton game, the 3DS remake of Donkey Kong Country Returns, and Atlus' new 3DS Shin Megami Tensei game. Not to mention the new Wii U Pikmin game, which are now set for August 4, and the new Wario mini-game collection, Game & Wario, now set for June 23.

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Nintendo is slowly phasing the original Wii out of its hardware lineup, announcing today that many of the system's online services will be permanently shut down on June 28.

Don't worry, the Wii Shop Channel will still be available for you to purchase downloadable games and redownload previous purchases. The shutdown applies to the following free online channels, which most users probably aren't using regularly in any case:

  • Nintendo Channel
  • News Channel
  • Forecast Channel
  • Everybody Votes Channel
  • Mii Contest Channel

You'll no longer be able to send messages or Miis to other Wii owners over the Internet, either. Nintendo also said that "message/data exchange within some games will be disabled" but didn't clarify which games this applies to, or whether online gameplay in popular titles like Mario Kart Wii or Super Smash Bros. Brawl would be affected (Nintendo refused to comment on this matter in response to an Ars request).

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For children with dyslexia, learning to read can be a nightmare: to them, it's a jumble of words, letters, and sounds that is impossible to make sense of. Studies show that dyslexia is a disorder of the brain (rather than of the visual system), but since scientists still don’t know the root cause, there’s no simple way to combat the disorder. Traditional treatments and therapies for the dyslexia are time-consuming, expensive, and don’t necessarily bring huge improvements.

One of the hallmarks of dyslexia is what researchers call "attentional dysfunction;" this deficit makes it hard for dyslexics to focus their attention and pick out important information in a cluttered environment. To attack this deficit head-on, a group of Italian researchers wondered whether children with dyslexia would benefit from intense immersion in an activity that forced them to practice these skills. Specifically, would playing active video games help dyslexic kids learn to focus their attention, making it easier for them to learn to read?

The answer was a resounding yes, according to the research detailed in Current Biology this week.

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